18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children.21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”The Sadducees were a different group from the Pharisees. The two groups often engaged in sharp debate, and the resurrection was one of those flashpoints of conflict between the two. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection; that’s why they were sad, you see. (Whaa-whaaaa)
24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
They came to Jesus because they had heard that he believed in the resurrection, and they wanted to pose a question to him that they had probably posed to many Pharisees. It was a dishonest question, meant to make resurrection look like a ridiculous, and even unbiblical, idea. I imagine that no Pharisee had been able to give them a satisfactory reply, so they thought they could trap Jesus with this one.
One woman. Seven brothers. Each man obeyed the biblical law by marrying his older brother’s widow and trying to produce an heir for him. This was how a family was able to continue it’s line. Should the oldest brother die without an heir, the next brother in line was responsible for marrying his brother’s widow and producing a male child for his dead brother. It was a sort of surrogacy.
So the woman and the seven brothers die without producing an heir. When the resurrection happens, and here the Sadducees are probably snickering to themselves, whose wife will she be? She couldn’t possibly be married to all of them; that would be adultery! How can there be adultery in the resurrection? How can obedience to the biblical law in this life lead to disobedience to the biblical law in the resurrection? That’s exactly the situation we have in this scenario. Obviously, the Sadducees conclude, the resurrection cannot exist.
But Jesus refuted them, and quite easily actually. But he did it by dropping the bomb that destroys the hopes and dreams of every young, evangelical Christian. “When the dead rise,” he said, “they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” There will be no marriage in heaven. Or, to put it more accurately, romantic, sexual love, and the unique bond between two people that goes along with it, will not exist in the resurrection.
Now let me say this. If you find that thought so depressing, so repugnant, so distasteful, so disappointing that you don’t even want to participate in the resurrection anymore, then you have made marriage and romantic love into an idol. In fact, I believe one of the most powerful idols that afflicts young people, and especially young people today, especially Christian young people, is the idol of romantic love.
We put a lot of hope into romantic love. We think of it as normal. We think it’s our right to be loved, and to experience this romantic love, for all of our lives. But there’s a greater love, a better love than this, and too many of us are missing out on it because we’ve made romantic love an idol in our hearts.
The greater love is the agape love that we will experience with Jesus for eternity. At the end of the Bible there’s a wedding; the groom is Jesus, and the bride is the Church. But they’re not getting married under the compulsion of romantic love, but rather in the promise of agape love.
Agape love is the love of the cross. It’s the love that lays down its life, that forgives sins, and refuses to demand its rights. This is the love that Jesus made a reality for us when he died for our sins on the cross.
There won’t be marriage in the resurrection, because in the resurrection, agape love will replace romantic love. Romantic love is a shadow, a wonderful, exciting shadow, but still a shadow of the deep self-sacrificing love of God that we will all experience together, with God, for all eternity. We are invited to fully participate in divine love of the Trinity.